Gender Roles in Economics

Men and women lived very separate lives. Women farmed, cared for children, cooked, made household goods, and performed other domestic chores. Men were hunters and warriors and helped the women occasionally with clearing fields, planting and harvesting. Women had status and economic power because corn was depended upon for subsistence, and it was the women who were the agriculturalists and owned the use of the fields. Access to land and crops came to men through the women. Also, Cherokee women coordinated the redistribution of produce for feasts and to aid those whose crops failed. In fact, during the 18th century Cherokee women held special dances to obtain crops for those in need.

The men were responsible for providing meat to the household, warfare, and foreign policy. Traditionally, Cherokee men hunted wild game such as deer, bear, and turkey. Hunting parties would often be gone for months. When not hunting, men spent much time playing games to improve coordination and to keep fit.

After contact with Europeans, economics came under control of warriors because deerskins and captives became trade items, and men were responsible for foreign policy. The 19th century brought the federal civilization policy which Cherokee women believed validated their role as farmers and expanded their responsibilities to animal husbandry, spinning, weaving, and sewing.

Many Cherokee men continued to hunt because it was one of the things that defined masculinity in their culture. As wildlife disappeared, Cherokee men restocked their hunting grounds with cattle and hogs. Horse stealing also became a substitute for war and a medium of exchange in the first decade of the 19th century (Perdue, 1995). In 1828, after 30 years of the civilization program, Cherokee men still had not fully adapted to farming. Throughout this time, men handled foreign policy and served as intermediaries between women and the federal government. Cherokee women and men adapted to new circumstances according to old definitions.

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